The U.S. men’s national team starts the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Friday night in Columbus, Ohio against rivals Mexico. Then, they travel to San Jose, Costa Rica to face off with another perennial power on the continent. What does history tell us about the importance of this set of games?
- Two games don’t decide the qualification process: The Hex is a ten game slog through the final round of qualifying. These two games won’t decide anything definitively, there’s way too much soccer to be played over the next year for that.
- However, momentum is important at the start: In CONCACAF, you never want to be forced to go on the road to get wins. The U.S. does not want to dig a hole early in the process and be forced to steal wins on the road consistently.
- Four points from the first two game almost guarantees qualification: Eight teams have started the Hex with four points or better and all but Guatemala in 2006 qualified for the World Cup. Costa Rica (2002), Honduras (2014), Mexico (1998, 2006), and the U.S. (1998, 2002, 2010) used early success to book their place in the World Cup.
- The rest of CONCACAF is improving steadily: Besides Mexico and Costa Rica, the rest of the group are no push-overs. Honduras has been to the last two World Cups. Panama was agonizingly close to making the qualification playoff last time around. Trinidad and Tobago is probably the weakest team in the group, but still has players to be concerned about.
- Seventeen points is the magic number: No team finishing on seventeen points in the Hex has ever failed to qualify for the World Cup. That is why the old adage, “Win at home, draw on the road,” holds true.
- Only one team has come back from losing their first two games: Trinidad and Tobago’s historic qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany is the only time in Hex history that a team has bounced back from two losses to start the campaign to qualify. The Soca Warriors were able to win four of their last eight to get to a playoff against Bahrain.
- Mexico did this gauntlet in 2010, split their first two games, and qualified fairly comfortably. They lost in the opener in Columbus to the U.S., but rebounded for a 2-0 win over Costa Rica at the Estadio Azteca in their second match.